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Arthritis of the Hip

Under normal, healthy circumstances, all of the parts of a joint work smoothly together to allow painless motion. But a number of things can go wrong with the joint and cause pain, stiffness, weakness, and loss of motion. Arthritis is a term we use to describe a diseased and painful joint.

In the early stages, arthritis pain is caused by inflammation or swelling of the joint structures. In later stages, the cartilage covering the joint bones is worn away and the underlying bone becomes exposed. The bones of the joint begin to rub together, causing friction and pain. There are several different types of arthritis.


Osteoarthritis (OA), or degenerative joint disease, is by far the most common form of arthritis. It is the result of the stresses and strains on the joint that occur over many years. It occurs most often in the weight-bearing joints of the hip, knee, ankle, and foot. The joint cartilage on the ends of the bones becomes damaged, pitted, and worn away, which prevents smooth, friction-free movement inside the joint. With osteoarthritis, you may have a painful, grinding feeling as the joint moves and the bone surfaces rub against each other. Pain, stiffness, swelling, and difficulty walking are common as the cartilage continues to wear away. In some cases, family history plays a role in the development of OA.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an inflammatory disease of the synovium - the tissue that lines the inside of the joints and produces a slippery fluid that keeps the joints lubricated. Unlike osteoarthritis, which is largely caused by stress and strain to the joint, rheumatoid arthritis is a disease that causes the joint's synovium to become inflamed and thickened. This breaks down the surrounding cartilage, ligaments, and even bone. The joints become swollen, painful, stiff, and deformed. Because RA is a "systemic" disease (a disease that affects the whole body), some patients with RA have other problems not related to the joints.

Traumatic Arthritis

Traumatic arthritis can develop in someone who has had a serious injury in or around a joint (ligament disruption, bone fracture, etc) at some point in the past. Trauma to the joint can eventually cause imbalances and premature destruction of cartilage similar to what occurs in osteoarthritis.

Avascular Necrosis

Avascular necrosis (AVN), or osteonecrosis, is a type of arthritis caused by a lack of blood supply to a joint. It may be related to an underlying medical condition, to drugs that have been needed to treat some other illness, or to lifestyle issues. This loss of blood supply causes the bone cells to die. The joint collapses into an irregular shape and the cartilage covering the bones breaks down.

Above content provided by  Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Posted March 2011

Contact Information

Joint Replacement and Reconstruction
Carl J. Shapiro Department of Orthopaedics
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
330 Brookline Avenue
Boston, MA 02215